By Eric Copeland, Excelsior Springs Standard
As America watched the horror unfold Monday during the end of the Boston Marathon, two local men practically had front row seats.
Don Ledford and Tim Barney had both already finished the race when two explosions tore through the crowd near the famed marathon’s finish line. They were still nearby when the bombs went off.
“I was kind of oblivious to what was happening,” Barney, 46, recalled on Tuesday, a day after the tragedy that killed three people and hospitalized 183. “It sounded like two cannons, but that day is Patriot Day in Boston, so while it sounded weird, I didn’t really know anything was wrong.”
Barney crossed the finish line in wave one of the runners; the bombs went off while wave two came in.
“I was about a block away,” he said. “It takes a few minutes to get your medal, and then you have to get your stuff from the bus.”
Since the starting line and finish line are so far apart, he said the runners’ personal belongings are bused from one place to the other during the race.
Afterward, he said he was walking to his hotel, about a mile from the finish line, when he started to suspect something was amiss.
“I saw all of these emergency vehicles, but I thought maybe they were going in to rush someone to the hospital after they overdid it,” he said. “But then the police and fire trucks kept on coming from every direction, so I realized something strange was going on.”
Following the explosions, which investigators now say were bombs built in pressure cookers and packed with shrapnel-like ball bearings and nails, authorities shut the entire area down.
“You have to realize, it’s a huge day in Boston,” Barney said. “There are millions of people lining the streets.” He compared it to St. Patrick’s Day or the Plaza Lights in Kansas City, but said it’s far bigger than that because Boston is a much larger city. “The people just go for miles and miles.”
Emergency officials instructed everyone who was already in a hotel to stay there, and those who were still nearby were told to go home, he added. A short time after he arrived back at his hotel, a staff member knocked on the door as the hotel did a head count to make sure none of the guests was among those injured or killed.
Barney, a salesman at Van Chevrolet, isn’t a newcomer to the Boston Marathon – he also ran in 2003. This time around, he finished in 4:09:47.
Ledford finished in 3:48:38 on Monday, his first time running the Boston Marathon, so he was already back at the changing tent when the first bomb exploded.
“I was close by – not really close enough to see, but I was in the middle of the confusion that followed,” Ledford said.
He had already crossed the finish line and picked up the food, water and other items in the corral, then got his clothing off the bus and went to change a few blocks from the scene of the incident.
“We heard the blast, and everyone looked up, startled,” he said. “We were wondering if it was an explosion, or thunder, or if something fell. And then the second blast was pretty loud and got our attention, but we still had no idea what was going on.”
Ledford, 50, the public affairs officer at the U.S. Attorney’s office, said it was a while before he learned what had happened. He was looking for a place to get a massage after the 26-plus-mile run, but officials turned people away. So then he wandered over toward the designated family meeting place, but people were being turned back from there as well.
“There were a lot of tall buildings, so we couldn’t see any smoke or anything, but then the emergency vehicles were coming through,” he continued. “We knew something bad had happened, but nobody knew what it was.”
The mass confusion that followed was hard to fathom. The race drew 27,000 runners and many more spectators; the runners themselves were tired, sore, possibly not thinking clearly and many of them were unfamiliar with the city.
For Ledford, his situation was compounded by the fact that he had no cell phone or billfold, and he didn’t know where his wife and son were.
Loretta and Chris Ledford had watched him pass from their hotel, which was along the race route at about the 24-mile mark. The plan was for them to then take the subway downtown to meet him at the finish line.
“I didn’t know if they had even gotten there,” Ledford explained. “I started walking in the direction of the subway station, but the subway was shut down. So I went to the big park right across the street, Boston Common.”
He borrowed a phone but was unable to get through to his wife, so he sent a text message. Then he sat down on a park bench to eat the fruit he was given at the finish line. By this time, people around – some of them still in their running clothes, because they’d been unable to reach the bus where their belongings were – had started talking, checking their cell phones and watching the news. It was then that Ledford began to piece together what had happened.
Finally, he sent another text and shared a taxicab with some other runners – finally arriving back at the hotel. But there was more confusion ahead. His family wasn’t there, and while he was able to get into the hotel room, Ledford said his wife had locked the suitcase and he didn’t have a key. As a result, he still couldn’t get to his wallet.
Fortunately, the cab driver shrugged off the charge. A short time later, Loretta and Chris arrived back at the hotel; they had gotten stopped at a subway station halfway to downtown and were forced to walk back. Finally, the Ledfords were back together.
Barney said he hoped Monday’s happenings didn’t put a damper on future marathons.
“It’s a huge celebration, and really a whole lot of fun,” he said. “I hope this doesn’t make it so they feel like they have to lock it down. It would be a shame if it became like a police state.”